Making the client feel comfortable prior to the assessment is really important -- you are not going to get a true assessment without this. Also, first impressions tend to be lasting, so a person’s ongoing treatment will be more effective if you can get started with a good first impression. I was just thinking about how being friendly, understanding, and non-judgmental when the topic of substance use comes up would make discussing problem use so much easier for a client. I think this is why some counselors tell their clients stories about their own drinking or drug use.
Another thing we were starting to talk about was being able to encourage people to change, letting them know you believe in their ability to get better. As helpers, we need to maintain a super positive attitude and be able to find the goodness in all kinds of people and situations.
One more thing to recognize prior to assessment is that bringing up this topic is bound to make people nervous. It may even cause some powerful feelings like anger, guilt, or embarrassment. Some people are going to try to hide their problem or play down how serious a problem is.